State of nat’l calamity

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President Aquino made this decision in the wake of 'Sendong,' which killed close to 1,000.

SYMPATHY. President Benigno Aquino III provides relief goods to victims of 'Sendong' during his visit to Cagayan de Oro City on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011. Photo by Malacañang Photo Bureau

MANILA, Philippines [UPDATED]- President Benigno Aquino III on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011, said he is set to declare a state of national calamity in the wake of the floods that killed at least 957 people in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan cities in northern MIndanao.

Aquino made the announcement during his visit to Cagayan de Oro City on Tuesday.

As of Tuesday 6 a.m., the government has recorded 957 dead due to “Sendong.” Some 1,582 had been reported injured while 432 were rescued, said the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

At a disaster management briefing for the Chief Executive in Cagayan de Oro City, the first in a three-city trip to calamity-struck areas in Mindanao, Mr. Aquino also said he has created a task force that would seek to prevent the recurrence of the tragedy that has claimed over a thousand lives, and to determine who may be at fault.

In discussion with officials on relief efforts for typhoon-hit communities in Mindanao, the President volunteered, “We will be declaring a state of national calamity.”

He also gave his assurance that the government will “fine-tune” its system on disaster risk management, and to hold accountable those who were at fault through the findings of a task force he has formed.

The task force includes representatives from the Department of the Interior and Local Government, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Department of Public Works and Highways, Department of Science and Technology, Department of Justice, Department of the Environment and Natural Resources, and the Mindanao Development Authority.

“We’d like to assure you that we are going to fine-tune all of the systems in place so that we can prevent similar tragedy from happening. There is also going to be a fact-finding team to determine exactly where we can still augment the systems and procedures in place so that there are   no casualties of this magnitude ever again,” he said.

No repeat?

The President said that “so that this tragedy would not be repeated, we have to determine where lapses were committed, who are at fault, and how their due punishment.”

Mr. Aquino said that his primary concern at the moment are those who have been missing since typhoon Sendong hit the country on Saturday

“My concern right now the the missing, specifically. Let us exhaust all possible means to try and find all of these missing individuals,” he said.

The President enumerated some of the cost estimates of repairs on infrastructure damaged by the latest typhoon–all to be covered by the calamity fund currently at P1.17 billion, and need not require supplemental funding from Congress, for the moment.

Mr. Aquino said that on top of the calamity fund, the government can tap “a World Bank facility for disaster risk which will provide very concessional loans if we still need it.”

“The funds are readily available. We have at least two sources domestically and if  we have to tap, there are two foreign: ADB [Asian Development Bank] will be assisting us to the tune of about $3 million grant. And of course, the World Bank facility that is open to us,” he said.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said in a news briefing in Malacañang that Mr. Aquino was expected to sign the proclamation declaring a state of national calamity upon his return from Mindanao later that day.

Valte said that among the “important effects” of such a declaration is “automatic price controls” which will freeze the prevailing prices of basic necessities in affected areas.  

She added that under with such a declaration in place, government financial and lending institutions will be authorized to extend “no interest loans” while public health workers and state science and technological personnel will be given  hazard allowance.

She also that a national state of calamity, as compared to a locally-announced state of calamity, would allow automatic appropriations under Republic Act 7160 to be available for use in calamity areas and would authorize local governments to enact “a supplemental budget for supplies to prevent danger to or loss of lives.”

In his Cagayan de Oro disaster briefing, Mr. Aquino said the Philippines has received “offers of assistance” from the United States, Russia, and Japan, among others.

He said the US, in particular, is expected to provide the government “with the necessary airlift capability to fast track what we need,” especially as it only has one working C-130.

Challenge to Hataman

The President said that the government will prioritize the relocation of families living in danger zones and the delivery of relief to affected areas.

He said the Department of Social Welfare and Development has released P72.5-million worth of relief supplies, while the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) will help even those who are not members.

Mr. Aquino said the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office  (PCSO) will shoulder the expenses of typhoon victims confined at the Northern Mindanao Medical Center in Cagayan de Oro.

He also lauded private sector efforts to help in the typhoon relief operations.

The President said that the government was prepared for such weather disturbances but the casualties were due in part to the continued presence of residents in known danger zones, and deforestation caused by illegal logging.

“I have to ask myself, and I everyday I ask myself, is your government doing enough to avoid this kind of tragedy? I cannot accept that we have done all that we can; I know that we can still do, and should do, more,” he said.

The President said he expects the newly-appointed Officer-in-Charge of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Mujiv Mataman, to carry out the total log ban on natural forests in his region, where illegal logging remains rampant.
“I have directed the [ARMM] OIC to investigate reports that the logging ban has not been implemented in the ARMM,” he said.

Responding to questions, the President said he will direct the Department of Trade and Industry to look into the possible grant of incentives to firms and industries affected by the typhoon.

Asked if there will be incentives for flood-affected companies or industries, Mr. Aquino said, “We will task the DTI to study the matter. [We did not] discussed it yet [during] yesterday’s meeting but thank you for reminding us, there might be a call for that.

He noted that some insurance companies have reportedly agreed to delay payments due them from December to March. –

RELIEF. President Benigno Aquino III provides relief goods to victims of 'Sendong' during his visit to Cagayan de Oro City on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011. Photo by Malacañang Photo Bureau

HELP FOR ILIGAN. President Aquino issues assistance to Iligan City Mayor Lawrence Cruz during her visit to the city on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011. Photo by Malacañang Photo Bureau

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